Earlier this year, we gave a positive review to the HTC Inspire 4G on AT&T. Well, if you liked what that phone had to offer, you’re going to love this one. Building on much of the design sense of recent HTC handsets, the Sensation 4G on T-Mobile is one of the most powerful and sleek devices on the market. Better, it’s one of the first devices to run Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) and comes with a brand new version of HTC Sense to boot.
Like the Inspire 4G, the Sensation is a 4.3-inch HTC touch device. The manufacturer’s entire line seems to look somewhat similar these days, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Gray, charcoal, and maroon stripes line its rounded backside along with an oddly placed speaker (no one knows where to put ‘em these days) and 8-megapixel rear camera with dual-LED flash up top. The familiar rounded speaker phone grill adorns the front of the device, surrounded by a front-facing camera and indicator light. On the bottom are the four capacitive Android home, menu, back, and search buttons. An easy-to-use volume toggle rests on the left side of the phone with a MicroUSB charging port, and the power button is on the top right of the phone. Overall, it has a very good feel to it.
The 4.3-inch screen does stand out a bit in that it has been set into the phone slightly, like the phone inhaled its screen a bit. This is nice, but does cause the screen’s edges (which slant inward) to reflect light oddly, a potentially distracting feature until you get used to the phone. We can’t say it doesn’t look pretty, though.
The phone has a unibody-like shell, which is completely removable, allowing what feels like too much access to the innards of the phone. Removing the shell of the Sensation reminded us of what it must have been like to remove Darth Vader’s helmet; the phone seems weak and exposed without it. Still, the tradeoff for knowing your phone is not invincible is battery, SIM card, and MicroSD card access, which is a bargain as far as we’re concerned. HTC is really getting slick at designing these devices. We’ve rarely seen a phone that comes apart as well as the Sensation.
The Sensation 4G is one of HTC’s most powerful Android phones. Running on a 1.2GHz dual-core Qualcomm MSM 8260 processor, it also outpaces the Moto Atrix and just about everything else on the market, save the G2x and the upcoming 3D phones (one of which is also an HTC). Helping that processor along is 768MB of RAM (we’d like 1GB, but oh well) and a 1,520 mAh battery, which we found to last a bit longer than some competing phones. The screen is qHD at 540 x 960 pixels, though it still runs on more standard S-LCD technology and isn’t quite as vibrant as the Samsung Infuse or Galaxy S II. Finally, on a disappointing note, though the Sensation comes with 4GB of internal storage, only 1GB is useable. Apparently Android and HTC Sense now require 3GB of space on a phone. Yikes. Luckily T-Mobile and HTC are throwing in an 8GB microSD card. Hardcore users will want 16GB to 32GB of extra space, however.
Android and HTC Sense
We’ve been toying around with HTC Sense 3.0 at trade shows since January and it’s great to finally see it running on a handset we can buy. There’s no good reason HTC waited so long to implement Android 2.3, which has a lot of good upgrades, but we’re happy to see that it has come with such a major HTC Sense upgrade as well.
(For those in the dark here, Android handset manufacturers often add their own customizations to Android to make their handsets stand out. Sense is what HTC calls its modified User Interface.)
HTC Sense 3.0 is probably the best Android UI yet for the mass market. The Sensation comes loaded with 76 custom HTC widgets and many others. Unlike most widgets you see by manufacturers, these are actually useful, with full-screen email, calendar, photo, music, movies, and clock widgets. And to help you implement these, the phone comes with a helpful tips guide and an entire personalization menu that also lets you change the color scheme of your phone, easily add app shortcuts, and do seemingly simple things like change the wallpaper on the lock screen. No other build of Android has this level of easy-to-use customization.
Visual enhancements are abound. The Android home screen now has a 3D-like carousel look to it, much like Android Honeycomb, but prettier. This new view lets you spin through your home screens; if you spin fast enough, they’ll actually fly away from for a second and then piece themselves back together. The unlock screen now lets you unlock the phone directly to the camera, email, phone dial, or messaging apps, which is helpful. However, we must note that we had a difficult time unlocking the phone at times due to how low the unlock ring is placed on the screen.
Our favorite new upgrade in HTC Sense 3.0 is the Android Notifications bar. Now, when you pull it down, a row of recently used app icons lines the top and a quick settings tab runs along the bottom. Using quick settings, you can open up the HTC task manager (very useful) and toggle Wi-Fi, hotspots, mobile data, Bluetooth, GPS, and enter the main Settings menu. It works great and saves us an entire homescreen widgets and icons that we normally create to do the same thing.
Apps and Web
Nary an Android manufacturer that can resist loading its phones up with tons of non-removable apps, and HTC is no different. Luckily, most of its apps are somewhat useful. Almost every standard Android app that doesn’t involve Google Maps or YouTube has been remade by HTC, right down to the calculator. The Sensation comes with a mirror app, flashlight app, FM radio, Lookout security (a malware program), Polaris Office (we did not test this), a task manager, Peep, and some HTC apps like the HTC Hub, which let you back up your data on HTC servers or buy apps from HTC. A bunch of T-Mobile apps have been included as well. Overall, none of these will get in your way too badly, but it is a shame that none can be removed from the phone.
The Web works well enough on HTC’s custom browser, though not quite as swiftly as on Google’s standard Android browser. Again, we don’t think HTC needed to replace this, but it has. HTC’s browser doesn’t minimize the address bar, nor does it auto zoom out on large Web pages, though you can mess with zoom in the settings. T-Mobile’s “4G” is fairly disappointing as well. Here in New York City, our speeds varied wildly, from 400kbps to 1.4mbps download and 500kbps to 1.5mbps upload speeds. Even at its fastest, however, it paled when compared to Verizon, and even AT&T’s networks. T-Mobile does have some strong areas of the country. We recommend that you install a speed-testing app on a phone to check service quality before you buy a “4G” from any carrier in your area.
The HTC Sensation has an 8-megapixel rear camera and a VGA front-facing camera. While the front camera is pretty anemic, we found the rear camera to pull in a lot more color than competing phones, with the exception of Samsung, which impresses. We’re also testing out the Motorola Droid X2, and it had noticeably washed-out photos and lacked the touchable auto-focus of the Sensation 4G. However, moving video is where the device shines, with full 1080p video recording capabilities. Most comparable phones max out at 720p recording. The audio recorded with video is about as good as you’d expect from a phone.
As a phone, we have few qualms with the HTC Sensation, though we aren’t particularly happy with how HTC has disconnected the dialing screen from the call history and contacts sections. On stock Android 2.3, these experiences are tied together. With that said, we were able to get and retain signal as well as T-Mobile’s network allows in New York and had no issues with call quality. The phone microphone and earpiece appear to work well enough to service the low-fidelity calls we make over wireless networks.
With a 1,520mAh battery, the Sensation 4G is supposed to achieve a talk time of about 8.3 hours and standby time of 12 days. In our experience, the phone has proven to have remarkably stable and long battery life. With moderate use, you should have no problems using the device for an entire day and then some.
The Sensation 4G is HTC’s first Android Gingerbread phone, and the first with HTC Sense 3.0. Consider us impressed. Aside from a few small issues with the shape of its screen and the low amount of internal storage, the Sensation outpaces and outclasses almost every other Android phone. HTC Sense was already one of the best user interfaces available for Android, but the new 3D effects and useful feature upgrades — like embedded settings in the notifications tray — make it much friendlier to new users. Did I mention the 1.2GHz dual-core processor and solid battery life? We like this phone.
4.3-inch qHD (540x960px) display
1.2GHz dual-core processor packs power
HTC Sense 3.0 has a ton of useful new features
Good battery life
Only 1GB of free internal storage
Weak rear speaker
Rounded screen can reflect light oddly
New Sense 3.0 unlock screen is sometimes difficult to use